Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury #bookreview #YA #urbanfantasy #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

A rich, dark urban fantasy debut following a teen witch who is given a horrifying task: sacrificing her first love to save her family’s magic. The problem is, she’s never been in love—she’ll have to find the perfect guy before she can kill him.

After years of waiting for her Calling—a trial every witch must pass in order to come into their powers—the one thing Voya Thomas didn’t expect was to fail. When Voya’s ancestor gives her an unprecedented second chance to complete her Calling, she agrees—and then is horrified when her task is to kill her first love. And this time, failure means every Thomas witch will be stripped of their magic.

Voya is determined to save her family’s magic no matter the cost. The problem is, Voya has never been in love, so for her to succeed, she’ll first have to find the perfect guy—and fast. Fortunately, a genetic matchmaking program has just hit the market. Her plan is to join the program, fall in love, and complete her task before the deadline. What she doesn’t count on is being paired with the infuriating Luc—how can she fall in love with a guy who seemingly wants nothing to do with her?

With mounting pressure from her family, Voya is caught between her morality and her duty to her bloodline. If she wants to save their heritage and Luc, she’ll have to find something her ancestor wants more than blood. And in witchcraft, blood is everything.

The main reason I requested this book, other than that beautiful cover, is the high stakes/high pressure situation Voya is put in and the mention of witches and genetics.

I didn’t realize this was a futuristic Toronto setting (why aren’t more books set in Canada?), but that made me like it even more. I’m pretty sure I’ve never read about futuristic witches. The mixture of urban fantasy and sci-fi was also surprising, and now I’m wondering why there aren’t more novels with this blend of genres.

The first several pages are an introduction to Voya’s family – and it’s a large one. Honestly, a family tree might have helped with this dysfunctional bunch. They argue, insult, and mess with one another, but it’s clear the love runs deeply, and family is a priority. In Voya’s case, she puts everyone ahead of her own interests and desires and suffers from a severe case of low self esteem. She’s been anxious for her Calling, but fears she’ll be the first of her family in decades not to come into her powers. Flawed and full of self-doubt, you can’t help rooting for her. Voya is also a talented cook, using some of her own original recipes as well as her ancestors’ (yes, I totally drooled – but maybe not over the goat dishes), and I enjoyed learning about the Trinidadian culture.

Luc (thrilled he’s a trans character) is a tough nut to crack. He initially comes across as an arrogant genius, but with Voya’s prodding his walls gradually disintegrate. As a complex character I still think there are several layers left undiscovered, and I’m not sure how I felt about him at the end of the novel. It’s an ending I couldn’t have predicted.

Voya’s Calling is a seemingly impossible task with terrible consequences no matter which decision she makes. I had no idea how this would play out and almost dreaded seeing what she’d do. The magic system is well thought out and, although complicated, is explained well. One of my favorite things about this world is how accepting it is of all genders, identities, and sexualities, and the characters are diverse. At nearly five hundred pages, this is a long one for YA, but it’s the first of a series and contains the initial world-building.

Impossible stakes, magic, a dysfunctional, loving family, first love, and killings, Blood Like Magic contains a multi-layered plot and a MC asked to make an impossible choice. I’m axious to see where this series goes next.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rabbits by Terry Miles #bookreview #scifi #technothriller

Conspiracies abound in this surreal and yet all-too-real technothriller in which a deadly underground alternate reality game might just be altering reality itself, set in the same world as the popular Rabbits podcast.

It’s an average work day. You’ve been wrapped up in a task, and you check the clock when you come up for air–4:44 pm. You go to check your email, and 44 unread messages have built up. With a shock, you realize it is April 4th–4/4. And when you get in your car to drive home, your odometer reads 44,444. Coincidence? Or have you just seen the edge of a rabbit hole?

Rabbits is a mysterious alternate reality game so vast it uses our global reality as its canvas. Since the game first started in 1959, ten iterations have appeared and nine winners have been declared. Their identities are unknown. So is their reward, which is whispered to be NSA or CIA recruitment, vast wealth, immortality, or perhaps even the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe itself. But the deeper you get, the more deadly the game becomes. Players have died in the past–and the body count is rising.

And now the eleventh round is about to begin. Enter K–a Rabbits obsessive who has been trying to find a way into the game for years. That path opens when K is approached by billionaire Alan Scarpio, the alleged winner of the sixth iteration. Scarpio says that something has gone wrong with the game and that K needs to fix it before Eleven starts or the whole world will pay the price.

Five days later, Scarpio is declared missing. Two weeks after that, K blows the deadline and Eleven begins. And suddenly, the fate of the entire universe is at stake.

I couldn’t resist this description of an alternate reality game – and it turned out to be a mindbender of a book.

I wasn’t familiar with the Rabbits podcast created by this author, but after checking it out it seems to be pretty popular. The website states it’s a documentary/docudrama, and the show’s producers won’t admit it isn’t real. That little niggle at the back of my brain wondering if this could really happen made this story even more appealing for me. The game of Rabbits is kind of like Fight Club – you don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist, and you tell no one you’re playing. Rumors about its purpose have surrounded the game for years, and the identities of the winners are unknown. It involves finding patterns, inconsistencies, and following clues in our everyday world, and the players seem to be pretty tech savvy and geniuses at detecting subtle irregularities.

After K is contacted by Scarpio (a former winner – maybe?) who tells him something has gone wrong with the game, things take a dark turn. Players go missing and/or turn up dead. K has had some issues in his past and at times is unsure of what’s real and what’s not – along with the reader. He loses time, encounters shadow figures, and remembers movies that don’t exist. My jaw dropped more than once at unanticipated twists, and I formed all sorts of theories.

At times, you’ll feel like you’re literally going down a rabbit hole with the characters, then look up at the clock and see you’ve also lost time because you need to know what’s happening. With quantum physics, alternate realities, false memory syndrome, and more, Rabbits is a trippy and often baffling novel I’d recommend to avid sci-fi fans. Now I’ll be looking for patterns and inconsistencies everywhere.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Ones We’re Meant To Find by Joan He #bookreview #scifi #YA

One of the most twisty, surprising, engaging page-turner YAs you’ll read this year—We Were Liars meets Black Mirror, with a dash of Studio Ghibli.

Cee awoke on an abandoned island three years ago. With no idea of how she was marooned, she only has a rickety house, an old android, and a single memory: she has a sister, and Cee needs to find her.

STEM prodigy Kasey wants escape from the science and home she once trusted. The eco-city—Earth’s last unpolluted place—is meant to be sanctuary for those commited to planetary protection, but it’s populated by people willing to do anything for refuge, even lie. Now, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to use science to help humanity, even though it failed the people who mattered most. 

I saw reviewers raving about this book on Goodreads and a few blogs. Being a sci-fi fan, I had to request it.

While this cover is beautiful, it doesn’t scream sci-fi/dystopia to me. I honestly assumed it was YA contemporary until I read the description, and I’m afraid it may be targeting the wrong group of readers. The worldbuilding is the big standout for me in this novel. Earth is overpolluted and nearly uninhabitable, and citizens have taken to living in ecocities in the sky. If you rank high enough, that is. Most people don’t and have little chance of getting in. Oceans are poisoned and natural disasters occur frequently, killing millions. Time is running out.

Told in alternating POVs between Cee and Kasey, discrepancies in their stories arise early in the book. By Cee’s count, she’s been on the island three years. Kasey says she’s been missing only months. The mystery about what exactly is going on will keep readers turning the pages, but I have to admit I guessed it early. I’ve probably read too many sci-fi books, and I came across a similar premise in another novel a few years ago that clued me in.

If contemporary fans pick this up, I suspect the strong bond between the sisters will be the draw for them, and it’s a driving force in the plot. Cee loves life and is carefree, while Kasey is more at home in a science lab working alone. With me being more a fan of sci-fi than contemporary, the relationship aspect didn’t appeal to me as much.

It’s a grim story, but comes with stunning plot twists that have surprised most readers and complex worldbuilding. If you’re a fan of sci-fi/dystopia who enjoys mysterious puzzles or like reading novels with strong sibling bonds, this book may captivate you.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen #bookreview #blogtour #scifi

An extraordinary and emotional adventure about unlikely friends and the power of choosing who you want to be.

Jamie woke up in an empty apartment with no memory and only a few clues to his identity, but with the ability to read and erase other people’s memories—a power he uses to hold up banks to buy coffee, cat food and books.

Zoe is also searching for her past, and using her abilities of speed and strength…to deliver fast food. And she’ll occasionally put on a cool suit and beat up bad guys, if she feels like it.

When the archrivals meet in a memory-loss support group, they realize the only way to reveal their hidden pasts might be through each other. As they uncover an ongoing threat, suddenly much more is at stake than their fragile friendship. With countless people at risk, Zoe and Jamie will have to recognize that sometimes being a hero starts with trusting someone else—and yourself.

I was on the fence about requesting this book, but how can you not like a guy who robs banks (they’re insured!) to pay for cat food, books, and coffee? I also enjoyed Chen’s character-driven, postapocalyptic book, A Beginning at the End.

Some Twitter talk gave me the impression this book was more humorous than it actually is – in the majority of it, anyway. I chuckled a few times in the first couple chapters – then it takes a more serious tone – but the last thirty percent upped my rating to four stars. That’s when I really fell for these characters and their ride or die friendship (which started out nowhere close to that level).

Both Jamie and Zoe possess superhero powers, their origin a mystery. They have big blanks in their memories, and each of them awoke two years ago in separate strange rooms with no idea of who they were or how they got there. Taking on hero and villain personas, they only know each other as Throwing Star and Mind Robber, although Zoe isn’t your typical hero and Jamie certainly isn’t a supervillain. Both are wonderfully flawed, and their lives are messy. Once they decide working together will get them more answers about their pasts, much of the story is spent on that quest.

Don’t expect any jaw-dropping revelations to fall from the sky. It’s relatively easy to figure out what’s going on before the characters do. At around the seventy percent mark, the story takes an unexpected turn and, for me anyway, that’s when it becomes somewhat humorous. The overall message is that anyone can be a hero or a villain – it’s how you choose to use your powers and live your life that makes a difference in the world. With some fun action scenes, impressive character growth, and a strong theme of friendship, We Could Be Heroes is a satisfying read.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Mike Chen is the author of Here And Now And Then (a finalist for Goodreads Choice – Best Sci-Fi, CALIBA Golden Poppy, and the Compton Crook Award) and A Beginning At The End (“a brilliant, fragile path through the darkness” — Library Journal). His short fiction is featured in Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View — The Empire Strikes Back, and he has covered geek culture for sites such as Tor.com, The Mary Sue, and StarTrek.com. In a previous life, he covered the NHL for Fox Sports, SB Nation, and other outlets. A member of SFWA, Mike lives in the Bay Area with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter

Conscience by Jonathan Pongratz #novella #scifi

Rory Bennels lives in a world ruled by a business entity known as the Corporation. For years he’s executed cerebral uploads for the recently deceased, but when the famed anarchist Epher Lore ends up in his lab, a series of events occur that shakes Rory’s world to the core.

I’ve been a science fiction fan since before I hit double digits in age, and I read across the board in the genre.  As a fan of this author’s horror novella, I was immediately interested in checking out his venture into sci-fi.

Cerebral upload isn’t a new concept to me, but the author puts a different spin on it.  What happens when the upload is from a wanted anarchist who has repeatedly eluded authorities and is accidentally transferred into a robot?

Rory is a follow-the-rules type of guy who’s just keeping his head down and doing his job, but then everything he believes about his world changes almost in the blink of an eye.  He’s forced to make a quick decision that will forever alter his life, and you’ll cheer him on until the last page.

Although this is a quick story, the author does a wonderful job with character development, and there’s plenty of action to go along with it.  If you’re a sci-fi/dystopian fan, I highly recommend this novella.  I’d be interested in seeing what happens next to these characters.

I was an early reader of this novella and received a complimentary copy from the author.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Key to Fear (The Key #1) by Kristin Cast #bookreview #YA #dystopian

To Health.
To Life.
To the Future.

We are The Key.
‘No touching today for a healthy tomorrow.’

Elodie obeys The Key. Elodie obeys the rules. Elodie trusts in the system. At least, Elodie used to…

Aidan is a rebel. Aidan doesn’t do what he’s told. Aidan just wants to be free. Aidan is on his last chance…

After a pandemic wiped out most of the human race, The Key took power. The Key dictates the rules. They govern in order to keep people safe. But as Elodie and Aidan begin to discover there is another side to The Key, they realise not everything is as it seems.

Rather than playing protector, The Key are playing God.

Reading a book about a pandemic wiping out most of the human race may not be everyone’s cup of tea right now, but the blurb hooked me right away.

What would the world look like if touching was forbidden?  The world-building is impressive, and it’s obvious the author put a lot of time into creating it.  Everything from personal pods to procreation techniques is covered.  Citizens don’t date – they’re matched by The Key based on compatible genetics and given jobs determined by assessment tests.  Everything is sterile and impersonal – free choice is practically nonexistent.  What I missed was more information on how the pandemic came about and when and how The Key came into power.  A little more backstory would have filled in some blanks.

I liked that conformist Elodie and rebellious Aiden are polar opposities – the rule follower and the rule challenger.  Early on, it’s clear that Elodie doesn’t exactly obey all the rules, and I liked that about her.  It didn’t come as such a shock when she began questioning things.  The insta-love between them really wasn’t necessary for the plot – I think the story would have worked fine without it, but that’s just my opinion.

Pacing was an issue for me as not a lot happens in the first half of the story.  Around the 80% mark, things take off to the point that the ending feels rushed, but it’s a good place for the next book to begin.

If you’re in the mood for a dystopian set post-pandemic, The Key to Fear is a timely read with well-developed characters.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Grinders by C.S. Boyack #bookreview #cyberpunk #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

Jimi Cabot made one mistake as a starving college student. When she went to work for the San Francisco Police Department, it nearly cost her the job. The union stepped in and they had to reinstate her. They did so by assigning her to the duty nobody wants, Grinder Squad.

Grinders are people who use back room surgeries to enhance their bodies with computer chips, and various kinds of hardware. Jimi is sure that if she can just bust one grind shop, it will be her ticket back.

Paired with veteran cop, she soon learns that Grinder Squad is a cash-cow for the department. They are nothing more than glorified patrol cops, and generally get the worst assignments.

Matchless is the most wanted grinder of all time. He disappeared years ago, leaving only the evidence of those he enhanced during his career. With these pieces, Jimi picks up the cold trail to try working her way back to more respectable duty.

Grinders is a cyberpunk story set in a world where global warming has eroded coastlines, and society has solved many of our current problems by replacing them with new ones. There are cyber shut-ins, cyber-currency skimming schemes, and more in this futuristic tale.

This book also takes the opportunity to poke a stick at current issues that seem to have lasted into the future. Entitled people, helicopter moms, overzealous homeowner associations, and lack of decent jobs are all present. Never preachy, these issues make up the day to day work of a patrol officer.

I’ve mentioned this in reviews of Boyack’s books before, but his imagination is astounding.  Grinders is full of wildly creative world-building and yet, some of the creations aren’t so far-fetched and are entirely plausible in the not-too-distant future (although I could live just fine without the holobarkers – I’m not a fan of commercials/advertisements).

The rotating POVs helped me see this story from all angles, and despite Nootropic’s illegal activities, I felt for the guy.  His heart’s in the right place, but it took me a while to figure out the deal with his rats.  I enjoyed the cast of diverse characters, but my favorite had to be Lou, Jimi’s gruff veteran partner.  I loved their working relationship and how they learned certain ‘lessons’ from each other.  Shout out to AI cat Cole who gave me several laughs.

Grinders is vividly colorful and full of futuristic elements and technology sure to thrill sci-fi/cyberpunk fans.

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe #2) by Neal Shusterman #bookreview #YA #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

The first book in this series, Scythe, floored me.  Twists and turns I never saw coming, and it was one of my top reads that year.  I bought Thunderhead the day it was released, and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read it.

With power struggles, devious plans, and the internal thoughts of the Thunderhead, I found it difficult to put this book down.  Rowan and Citra continue to be strong, intelligent protagonists and each encounters many obstacles – in Rowan’s case, pretty painful obstacles.  As with Scythe, just when I thought I had something figured out – wrong again.  And that ending!  With my mouth hanging open and nearly in a state of shock over the last 15-20% of the book, nothing could have torn me away from it.

This is a series I’d recommend to all fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian readers, YA fans or not.  Since The Toll is already out, I’m just glad I don’t have to wait long before diving back into this world again.

The Nemesis (Diabolic #3) by S.J. Kincaid #bookreview #YA #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

In the heart-pounding conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Diabolic series, the Empire teeters on the edge of destruction as rumors spread that Nemesis is still alive.

Three years ago, Tyrus Domitrian shocked the galaxy by killing the woman he swore to love forever. The woman for whom he upended the Empire. The woman with whom he wanted to build a new and brighter future.

Now, the once-idealistic heir apparent has become the cruel Emperor Tyrus, wielding his authority with an iron fist, capable of destroying planets with a single word, controlling all technology with a simple thought. He has bent the Grandiloquy to their knees, and none has the power to stand against him.

But there is a muttering among the Excess. They say that Nemesis is not truly gone. They whisper of her shadow spotted in distant star systems. They say that Nemesis lives. That she will rise, and rally the people to topple the man who was once her truest love—and is now her fiercest enemy.

I waited almost three long years after finishing the second book in this series, The Empress, which nearly destroyed me.  To say I was thrilled upon receiving an ARC of The Nemesis doesn’t even begin to touch my level of excitement.

I’m a voracious reader, and it’s rare I’m surprised by plot twists, but this series is full of them.  Surprises that ripped my heart out, made me want to throw the book across the room, and even kill the characters at some points.  For me, that’s the sign of a crafty, clever writer, and a big reason why Diabolic will always be one of my favorite YA sci-fi series.

Nemesis’s character arc has been fascinating to watch as she learns to believe she’s more than just a killer created in a lab.  Her strong bond with Anguish, a fellow Diabolic, is one of my favorite aspects of this story.  As much as I love her, Tyrus has always been the draw for me.  No matter your intelligence, he’ll always be ten steps ahead of you and can out-strategize anyone.  He’s delightfully wicked in this final novel and has an abundance of thought-provoking ideas in that head of his.  Both he and Nemesis are pushed to their breaking points, so be prepared for some nail-biting moments.

It takes a few chapters to find its stride, but the author delivers an intricately plotted, thrilling story loaded with political maneuvering – and a perfect ending in my opinion.  This is a series I’ll absolutely go back and read again.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

 

Lies and Legacy (Project Gene Assist #3) by Allie Potts #bookreview #scifi #cyberpunk #TuesdayBookBlog

It’s time to finish what they started.

Juliane’s woken to a post-apocalyptic world with no memory of the days leading up to her time in cryogenic suspension. Plagued by guilt, Stephen longs to sleep without being haunted by the faces of those he’s lost. Both are seeking more than answers.

Meanwhile, the defeat of the Watch has created an opportunity for a new world order to step in and take power. On one side, are the Sorcerers, a group of super-humans whose telepathic-like abilities and control over their bodies comes at a terrible price. On the other–an elite squad of genetically modified individuals who are now more beast than man.

Juliane is on a mission to reclaim her legacy.

Stephen is out to save his soul.

Can either stop the upcoming war before it destroys what’s left of humankind? In this struggle for survival of the fittest, they may have to find a way to save themselves first. 

Over two years have passed since I read book two of this series, so I was a little lost in the first few chapters while trying to remember the characters and their relationships to each other.  Once I finished the book, I discovered a character list that would have helped immensely.  Readers – it pays to scan the table of contents first and save yourself some confusion.

Being fascinated by genetic engineering, I’ve enjoyed the premise of this series from the first book.  With a big cliffhanger at the end of book two, I was anxious to see what became of this world and these characters.  With most of them separated, the rotating POVs allowed me to see each of their journeys – especially Stephen’s.  In book two, he’s a naive teen aching for adventure who gets more than he bargains for and learns some unsettling truths about himself.  Although still a somewhat awkward teen, a lot is riding on him, and he’s put into some difficult positions.  His character arc is one of my favorite things about this series.  Juliane’s journey is no less compelling – she’s truly on a mission to set things right.  Another character’s actions surprised me a bit, and I doubted his motivations, but it works for the story.  This is a fitting ending to this story.

With a fascinating premise, creative world-building, and well-drawn characters, this is a series I’d recommend to sci-fi cyberpunk fans.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.